NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Four: “A Disquiet Follows My Soul”

People know something has to be done.

Air Date: 23/01/2009

Director: Ronald D. Moore

Writer: Ronald D. Moore

Synopsis: The Fleet begins to divide over the continuation of the Colonial/Cylon alliance, with Zarek leading the political resistance and Gaeta stoking rancour on Galactica. Roslin comes to a decision about her future. Tyrol learns a shocking truth about his son.

Review

This is an episode that sets-up the battle for the future of the Fleet. The collapse of that entity in so many respects has been evident for a while, and was accelerated hugely by the discovery of a ruined Earth in “Revelations”, but it is here that we see it moving beyond just a natural degradation and a reaction of despair, and move into a full on ideological rupture. Certain opposition figures in the Fleet have had enough, and now feel they are in a position to force the issue, consequences be damned.

It comes down to little less than a pro or anti position on the Cylons themselves. Making an alliance of convenience was one thing, as both sides had a common goal in “The Hub”. Offering to bring them along for the ride in “Sometimes A Great Notion” was vague enough that it could be dismissed. But now we see the inevitable reality, which is that the rebel Cylons aren’t going to be satisfied with just being hangers on. They want protection, a seat at the table and full-on citizenship of the Fleet. These are natural and understandable desires from the perspective of the Cylons, but they provoke an equally natural and equally understandable political crisis on the other end of the spectrum.

If there’s a flaw in this episode, it is how hard it is to credit how the pro-alliance people don’t seem to realise how against the grain they are being. Figures like Adama, Apollo, Helo and Tigh seem to genuinely think that the objections can be over-ruled and people will just fall in line, and that all it will really take is a speech from Roslin and a few marines. Lest we forget, the people in the Fleet are the survivors of a holocaust on the Colonies that was perpetrated by the Cylons, and then the bloody occupation of New Caprica, never mind everything else. Asking them to put aside all that grief, pain and anger now, and trust Cylons, and to then get outraged when they don’t all obey, reflects a dangerous arrogance in people like Adama, though we may just have to call it flawed writing in the same turn.

And it’s not like the Fleet doesn’t have enough problems to be dealing with, as the discord coming out of “Revelations” has only been bandaged up really. We have officers at each others throats in public view, a political leadership that could charitably be described as “unclear”, a religious faction undergoing a violent transition and Apollo even brings up the possibility of the Fleet running out of food and fuel at some point if they don’t find a new home. To throw the grenade that is the Cylon alliance into this situation, and to inflame the resulting crisis through the use of force and a demonstration of no understanding, sets the stage for the tragedy that is going to take place very shortly before you even get to the figures involved.

Tom Zarek is the man on the political side of things who just isn’t going to take it anymore. His whole role on the show to this point has been a slow, often stumbling, effort to gain power, and he has been characterised by a patient approach. Hence why he accepted the role of Baltar’s VP in “The Captain’s Hand”, hence why he went back into that role later in “Collaborators”, hence why he was willing to ignore the constitutional provisions and allow Apollo to become interim President in “Sine Qua Non”. But no more. Zarek, the man of the people, who since Roslin’s disappearance is running the government without possibility of military endorsement of his Presidency, is no longer willing to kowtow to Adama’s power. And who can blame him? As of now Zarek has continued to do nothing wrong: his actions in “A Disquiet Follows My Soul” are those of a populist for sure, but all he does is pass a resolution in the Quorum that upsets Adama and refuse to support an alliance it seems the majority of the Fleet does not support. It’s genuinely hard not to think sympathetically of him for most of this episode.

And especially when, and not for the first time, Adama turns on the civilian government. Some ships don’t want Cylons to board them or make adjustments to their engines, and that’s understandable. Adama’s response is to send marines in, over the objections of these ships and their government. His excuse is that the engine upgrades are a military decision, but that excuse is starting to look a little tired. The coup in “Kobol’s Last Gleaming (Part Two)” and subsequent schism in “The Farm” showed that it was all too easy for the political government to be put to one side in favour of a de facto military dictatorship, and “Sine Qua Non” was another example. Now Adama is at it again, and seemingly ignorant of how his actions will have consequences.

In a way it’s a shame that the resolution of the story showcases Zarek as corrupt, but it isn’t like the groundwork hasn’t been laid for that, in episodes like “Colonial Day” and “Black Market”. Zarek has always had a side of sleaze to his character, and has always been willing to make deals. He’s actually quite a good politician I would say, in a certain sense. Lampkin wasn’t wrong when he said the Fleet could do a lot worse than have him as President in “Sine Qua Non”. But since whatever Adama claims to have on Zarek is bad enough to get the VP to stand down regards the tylium ship – and, on that, aren’t the agitators on that ship as seen in “Dirty Hands” just the kind of people Zarek would buddy up to – , it’s wrong for us to put Zarek on a pedestal, even if his position on the Cylon alliance doesn’t seem fundamentally incorrect. Here we learn that the man is perhaps overly-concerned with his public reputation, and can’t contemplate losing that. But that, and his dirty dealings, don’t put him on the wrong side of the Cylon debate.

Zarek brings things to a close, and sets them up in way, by comparing himself directly to Adama near the conclusion, saying the only difference between them is a uniform. Zarek, in “Home (Part One)”, previously indicated his desire for real power, and that power is being “the man with the guns”. Both he and Adama are headstrong, resolute, firm in their convictions and willing to bend rules to get what they want. Both are determined men who in a game of cards would probably both have excellent poker faces. Twists of fate have left them where they are: Zarek a terrorist, Adama an Admiral. But I think the key difference is that Adama is more prone to underestimation of his opponents at times: we saw that with Roslin in “The Farm”, with Cain in “Pegasus”, with D’Anna in “Rapture”. He’s doing it again here, and the realisation of that underestimation is going to hit him like a truck.

The person driving that truck is going to be Felix Gaeta. I really have to give a lot of praise to Alessandro Juliani here, he does a great job at getting across how deep-seeded Gaeta’s bitterness at everything is without it becoming too dramatic, and how that bitterness propels the character towards decisive action. I think Adama’s recitation of a poem in the early part of the episode might be about Gaeta: his “soul has suffered all it can” and is now past the point of pain and into something worse. In his very first scene, there is a brilliant contrast between the two sources of this toxicity, as Gaeta complains about the artificial leg that is hurting him, but is prevented a consultation because the doctor is busy with Cylons. The time bomb ticks away. And while he is just one voice that we hear on the matter, we know that Gaeta is presumably just the most prominent voice opposed to the Cylon alliance within the military.

So we get that absolutely astounding scene with Starbuck in the mess, that I genuinely think is one of the best of the show’s entire run. It’s all turned around for Gaeta since the events of “Collaborators”, as he brings up here, confronting Thrace much in the same way she did to him then: turns out three of the judges of that “Circle” were Cylons, and one was the wife of one. He left the events of that episode penitent, uncomfortable, still not fully right with himself. Now, a season-and-half removed, he’s different. There’s a confidence, a assured sense of self-righteousness and a perfectly poised ability to goad Starbuck. Gaeta puts her on notice here, deflecting her crude insults, and makes it clear that this frakked up world isn’t going to stand with him. That he has the confidence to call his shot in this matter, and discuss the implementation of what we have to describe as a mutiny, is just the end result of all that has happened. “The Face Of The Enemy” saw Gaeta given salvation from a terrible death, but he has come out of their experience determined to up end the order of the Fleet.

His own alliance with Zarek, a Faustian bargain if ever there was one, constitutes the greatest danger to the leadership of the Fleet that has yet existed. It is so because it is the little bit of order coming out of the collapse: the forces dedicated to the overthrow of Adama and Roslin emerging from the mess of resource shortages, religious disputes, military indiscipline, despair and constitutional crises. The only question is how far they can go, and if they can actually pull it all off. Zarek has perhaps always been heading this way, he was just waiting for the best time to throw the dice. Well, he’s shaking them in his hand now.

All of this would make “A Disquiet Follows My Soul” a great episode, but it does somehow manage to have room for three other vitally important plot-lines, albeit not all of them are home runs. Far from it actually, in the case of the first one I’m going to talk about. In the course of the episode, Tyrol discovers that his son, Nicholas, is not his son, and by extension is not a human/Cylon hybrid. Turns out Cally had sex with Hot Dog shortly before she and Tyrol were married, and kept the whole thing quiet. This whole thing just screams “getting rid of a complication” and is probably one of the most egregious examples of the perception that Season Four was scrambling in its second half to tie up loose ends (Moore claims this plotline was conceived (ha!) by the end of Season Three, but I’m not sure I buy it).

In essence, it seems as if the writers have decided that they are going to be going a certain way with Tyrol, as exemplified by his identification with the Cylons in the meeting scene, and him having a child is no longer going to be a positive when it comes to crafting that journey. Along with removing what we might call the hybrid plothole – after all, Hera isn’t quite as special as she is meant to be if there is another hybrid out there – the whole thing just feels very artificial, as well as a slightly strange way of trashing the Cally character posthumously. Not that her having an affair with Hot Dog is unbelievable, but the manner of the revelation here seems tailor made to have us think less of Cally, and it’s hard not to wonder if the manner of Nicki Clyne’s exit from the show, which may or many not have had something to do with the actresses non-BSG-related activities, might have been a factor in that. I suppose the other reason I’m not a huge fan of this plot line is that I remember it not going anywhere. It helps with Tyrol’s increasing alienation from humanity, but it might have been an avenue to explore parental pressures in the environment of the Fleet with Hot Dog, and help to showcase his growth from rookie pilot to CAG, but the plot essentially hits a dead end after this episode.

Over in the love den, things have taken a turn for the worst for Baltar and his cult. You might expect there to be an element of people turning on him and his message, but of course it makes sense that his preaching would only become more popular as people turn their backs on the “old” Gods and their seemingly useless prophecies and search for something more comforting. But that’s not actually what Baltar gives hem. Here, dressed down significantly, he delivers a sermon that is as full of fire and brimstone as we have seen from him, only the target is God. In essence, Baltar seems to suddenly reject the very idea of a loving, forgiving deity in favour of a being who should be asking forgiveness for their transgressions from humanity. Baltar is playing to the crowd undoubtedly, giving them an avenue to vent fury that cannot be vented in any other way, but the way he essentially gives no reaction to the discord that plays out after his words is telling I think. Baltar really did seem to believe in what this God represented, as we saw in his monologue from “The Hub”. Now it has all been dashed to pieces, so what is he left with? Followers, sure, but followers who signed on because of a message that now seems without point or depth. There’s material that was cut from these scenes involving a certain projection that we haven’t seen for a while that I imagine is rather important, and we’ll get to that in the next entry.

The only one left to discuss is Roslin. “A Disquiet Follows My Soul” sees her in a better place, seemingly. She’s past Anger, Denial, Bargaining and Depression, and has now settled into Acceptance. Death is coming, but she’s not running away from it anymore, she’s running around instead. Her philosophy now is to live for herself, for her wants and desires, and to hell with everything else, be it Pythia, be it the welfare of the Fleet, be it the Presidency, something she essentially seems to unofficially resign in her conversations with Adama here. That kind of responsibility just doesn’t interest her anymore. She gave everything to the Fleet and the prophecies, and got shown up at the end of the journey. Seemingly all that is left is for her to make herself as happy as she can be.

So she gets rid of her medication, goes for a few laps around Galactica to the shock of the crew and takes very firm steps to go beyond just a declaration of love for Adama. She wants “another role” before she passes, and seemingly that’s to be a significant other, someone who doesn’t cower in medbays or distracts themselves with the inanity of Fleet politics. The run, a powerful moment in a lot of ways, is the physical manner in which Roslin strives to secure this new role first, before a very kind of physical effort at the end of the episode.

I appreciate the Adama/Roslin romance plot a bit more on this watch than I did the first or second time. Maybe this form of analysis lends itself to thinking it more of a grand arc, and the two have been making eyes at each other for some time now, you can trace that all the way back to “Colonial Day”. Witnessing the aftermath of the consummation of this relationship still comes as something of a surprise, but it no longer makes my eyes role or, to my embarrassment from my early-20s self, induces yucks. What we see is two people in a very intimate moment, striving for whatever happiness they can find, grasping at life even when surrounded by so much despair. A lot of pain has occurred recently in BSG, the apogee perhaps being the moment of Dee’s suicide in “Sometimes A Great Notion”. Hopelessness prevails, and the collapse is not far away. But here at least there is light, love and the possibility of redemption. We’re going to need that thought in the days to come.

I’ve earned the right to live a little before I die. Haven’t I?

Notes

-Given it is such a wordy title, I’m surprised that it doesn’t seem to be a quote of anything. Still like it though.

-This is the first and only time that Ronald D. Moore was behind the camera for an episode. He does a really good job. Perhaps he should have done it more.

-Adama’s morning routine is portrayed in surprising candour, a little bit of normalcy in a world that is gone beyond crazy. But perhaps the point is that his routine no longer makes sense in that world.

-The poem Adama recites is “There is a Languor of the Life” by Emily Dickenson. It’s quite morose, but the again it was Dickenson.

-Twice in this episode, Adama finds discarded rubbish on the floor. Like the flickering lights that signified Galactica’s rundown state in “Lay Down Your Burden’s (Part Two)”, it’s a sign of thing going wrong.

-Gotta love Doc Cottle asking the expectant couple and nurse to “shut the frak up for a second”.

-Our look at “future of the entire Cylon race” is subdued enough I suppose, but it’s impossible not to notice the dark glare of Ishay as she contemplates what this all means.

-A good introduction to Gaeta’s bitterness in this opening scene, as he repeatedly, sarcastically, insists that the Cylons need to get taken care of first.

-Zarek isn’t willing to play ball on the alliance when asked his opinion: “No comment”. That’s comment enough really.

-Apollo errs in outing the last Cylon as “she”, which means Tigh spilled the beans. One less secret anyway, but Lee showcases his lack of guile in this verbal slip.

-The count is down six from “Sometimes A Great Notion”. Three of those are the Colonials killed by the Eight in “The Face Of The Enemy”, and Gaeta notes in the episode that “suicides are up”.

-I love Zarek’s snark when Apollo says the Cylon alliance decision isn’t his call. “Is it yours? Are you the President again? Sorry, I get confused what your job is on any given day.” Who can blame him? The constitution is in tatters.

-Adama and Zarek literally stare each other down in a very pregnant moment. The simmering tension between the two has always been there, but never more potent.

-Gotta love Tyrol’s trouble with “we”, “us” and “they” as it pertains to his Cylon nature and Colonial enlistment. “Maybe you’d like a chart to keep it all straight” Tigh snipes.

-The discussion in this meeting scene is very blase about how to get the jump drives updated over ships objections. Gaeta’s objections are dismissed very easily. The pro-alliance crowd really aren’t getting it.

-Gaeta’s rancour comes out in spades in this scenes, as he pointedly refers to Tyrol as “former Chief” and has to be reminded to call Adama “Sir”.

-Nicholas suffering from “Renal failure” is an automatic red flag as it pertains to his nominal Cylon nature. That’s hardly an issue they would suffer from, though I am reminded of Cottle’s criticism of Cylon “plumbing” before.

-It’s good that we see Tyrol twig it without Cottle having to spell it out. He’s not a stupid man. Cylon. Whatever.

-Cottle’s ethics are all over the place here though. As far as I am aware Doctor/patient confidentiality does not end with the death of the patient.

-Good auditory/visual image for Roslin’s malaise as she ignores the ringing phone in Adama’s quarters. She doesn’t even look up.

-The dumping of the pills here seems a more positive move than the burning of the Pythian prophecies. The latter was an action of despair, this is more like a positive reclamation of life.

-The music that we hear in this scene is the first part of “Laura Runs” which of course gets its full airing later in the episode. It’s another great bit of work from McCreary.

-Adama gives Roslin a fairly sad looking smile in this scene. He’s figured it all out, but he just needs to get the courage to confront her on it.

-As Adama walks the halls, we see marines escorting a restrained prisoner in civilian clothes going the other way. What’s up with that?

-It’s good that Gaeta brings up “Collaborators”. That was one of the worst moments for humanity in general, and he was the victim. It’s vital we are reminded that he has deep-seeded reasons for disliking the Fleet leadership.

-Oh, that confident smile on Gaeta’s face as he spars verbally with Starbuck. He’s calm, in control and enjoying putting the screws to her. This is something he has been looking forward to.

-“Yeah, who killed those 50 billion people, Kara?” “It wasn’t me.” “No, it was your husband.” There’s a sting and no mistake. He doesn’t mention the shooting from “Faith”, but it’s there in his head.

-“Is this how you get your kicks these days? Oh. Wait, I’m sorry. I meant half-kicks.” She’s giving as good as she gets, but man that is brutal too. Later she insists that she could “definitely hit a cripple”.

-“One day, one day soon, there’s gonna be a reckoning”. That could be the tagline for the whole second half of Season Four.

-I just love that Gaeta’s response to “Is that a threat?” is “Your Gods damn right that’s a threat”. No more hiding around for this guy.

-Gaeta rounds off the exchange, of which he is undoubtedly the victor, by asking if “a pity frak is out of the question?” It’s crude, but goes with the smarmy confidence he is displaying.

-I do like that a few crew walk out of the mess after Starbuck. There is a divide, and not everyone is going to be on Gaeta’s side.

-“Let’s talk”. I’m not sure I have ever wanted to see a conversation I will never get to see more.

-Zarek’s speech is hard to hear in some ways, but he is right. Roslin’s administration was fundamentally based on an intangible hope. Clinging to to that administration now seems unwise.

-Very importantly, Lee has now gone from being an obvious leader of the Quorum, to being the minority. Nobody is looking to him anymore. That’s how deep this goes.

-The running scene is put together really well: the music, the shocked looks, Roslin’s lack of care, her determination to just keep going.

-Adama brushing his teeth seems like an act with meaning, not dissimilar to his facial hair grooming. One question though: where is the Fleet getting toothpaste after all this time?

-I like Adama’s description of what Roslin is going through: “a moment of euphoria”. He isn’t buying that this is a personality reset just yet.

-Roslin couldn’t sum up her current mood any better than when she tells Adama “I’ve played my role in this farce”.

-Roslin is letting go of things bit-by-bit, refusing her responsibilities in this moment: “I’ve earned the right to live a little before I die”. Then, very importantly, she goes further by trying to convince Adama to come over to her side: “So have you”.

-One of Baltar’s flock answers his rhetorical question with a heartbreaking delivery: “We’ve done nothing wrong”. It ties back into his earlier teachings I suppose.

-Very powerful, Batar’s close that “God should beg for our forgiveness!” Could we call this an effort by him to assume a mantle of deificiation?

-Hot Dog tells Tyrol they “should talk” about his impregnation of Cally. He responds by punching Hot Dog. Can’t really blame him.

-Gaeta’s dissent in the CIC is ever more obvious as he parrots Zarek’s argument. Adama has had enough it seems and asks if Gaeta “has a problem” with him making the issue a military decision. He doesn’t get a chance to answer.

-Apparently “a Cylon and two marines” have been killed on the tylium ship, which seems an extreme enough event that we should see more consequences.

-When the tylium ship jumps, it appears to knock back the Vipers and Raptor, indicating the act creates something of a shockwave. But how, in the vacuum of space?

-“You know, there are days when I really hate this job”. It’s a bit of a sitcom line, but I like it.

-I like how Adama and Zarek are framed opposite each other in this closing scene, but with a bit of a tilted angle emphasising Adama’s superiority.

-Zarek doesn’t really flinch from the accusations of corruption, and makes no apologies. He knows it will all make him look bad though.

-Zarek wants to know why Adama thinks he knows where the tylium ship is. “Because I know that you do”. The Admiral is a smart man.

-Still, it’s a risky plan from him all the same, one dependent entirely on Zarek not taking a look at the dossier of “evidence”. It works out though.

-A not terribly needed musical sting as Zarek steps aside and reveals it is Gaeta he is talking to at the end. I’m not sure it’s that much of a shock really.

-Zarek wants to know how many people will follow Gaeta. The answer is a little terrifying: “Enough”.

-There is a lot of belief behind Gaeta’s justification to Zarek, that “the world is frakked”. No one knows that better than Gaeta.

-For an episode that it is all about the human/Cylon alliance, it’s a good touch that it ends with the creation of a very different alliance, between Gaeta and Zarek. This handshake is momentous.

-I suppose the ending reveal of Adama and Roslin in bed is meant to be a surprise, but it isn’t handled that way from a visual perspective at least. I wonder if this is a call-back to “A Day In The Life”, and how Adama’s bed looked occupied but wasn’t?

-And this really is as intimate as it gets: there’s candles and everything. Where did Adama get those?

Overall Verdict: BSG keeps firing on all cylinders with “A Disquiet Follows My Soul”, an episode that sets-up brilliantly everything that is about to happen. The sense of crisis within the Fleet is presented so well, and the central drama of Adama, Zarek and Gaeta is enough to make this a top tier BSG episode before you consider the stuff with Roslin and Baltar. The Tyrol plot is a weakpoint, but its not an enormous blemish. Next comes the coup.

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6 Responses to NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Four: “A Disquiet Follows My Soul”

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